'Have Had' vs. 'Had Had' in English

Summary

'Have Had' - is present perfect; used to indicate a time from the past to the present.
'Had Had' - is past perfect; used to indicate an event that happened before another past event.

Present Perfect

Structure: Have / Has (helping verb) + main verb (past participle)

The present perfect is used when an action starts in the past and continues to the present, or when talking about past actions without saying exactly when they happened.

Examples:

I have finished all my homework. [No exact specification when I've finished my homework, like 'yesterday' for example]

She has gone to the store. [No specification of exact time in the past]

We have lived here for three years. [Started in the past, and continued to the present]

Past Perfect

Structure: Had (helping verb) + main verb (past participle)

The past perfect is used when one past action happens before another past action/event. It shows the chronological order of events in the past and is often used in storytelling to make it clear which event happened first. Examples:

When I arrived at the party, they had already eaten all the food. [The action of eating happened before the arrival at the party]

My husband had finished all the housework by the time I got home from work.

When I called Laura last night, her husband told me she had gone out.

She had studied French before she moved to Paris. [Studying French happened before moving to Paris]

I had lived in 5 different cities before I turned 10 years old.

When to use 'have had' and 'had had'

In the present perfect, the auxiliary verb is either have (for I, you, we, they) or has (for he, she, it). In the past perfect, the auxiliary verb is always had. We use 'have had' in the present perfect when the main verb is also 'have':

I’m not feeling well. I have had a headache all day. [The headache started in the past, and continues in present]

She has had three children in the past five years. [She still has three children in the present]

We have had some problems with our computer systems recently.

He has had two surgeries on his back. [No indication on when exactly the surgeries occurred]


We use 'had had' in the past perfect when the main verb is also 'have':

We had had some trouble with our washing machine, so we called a repairman.

Last weekend I just wanted to relax because I had had a busy week.

She woke up screaming because she had had a bad dream.

The director told me he had had a meeting with the president. [The meeting occurred before he told me about it]

Usually, in spoken English, we almost always use the “short form”: Have -> 've | Has -> 's | Had -> 'd

I’m not feeling well. I’ve had a headache all day.

She’s had three children in the past five years.

We’ve had some problems with our computer systems recently.

He’s had two surgeries on his back.

We’d had some trouble with our washing machine, so we called a repairman.

Last weekend I just wanted to relax because I’d had a busy week.

She woke up screaming because she’d had a bad dream.

The director told me he’d had a meeting with the president.

It’s also common to have another word in the middle of have had, has had, or had had:

He’s just had two surgeries on his back.

We’ve recently had some problems with our computer programs.

By the time I was 35 I’d only had one serious boyfriend.

The director said he’d already had a meeting with the chairman.

In summary, the key difference between present perfect and past perfect is the point in time to which they are related. Present perfect relates to the present and emphasizes the connection between the action and the present moment, while past perfect relates to the past and indicates the sequence of events.

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